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Bioenergy threatens forests, warn environment groups

Forest advocacy groups from three continents are warning that bioenergy poses a threat to forests and forest-dependent peoples, and that IS plans for wood-based bioenergy will worsen a dangerous situation.

Increased support for the burning of wood to produce bioenergy is triggering increased logging and expansion of industrial tree plantations in the USA, Ghana, the Congo, Brazil and West Papua, explains the report, Wood-based Bioenergy: The Green Lie.

The report was released by Global Justice Ecology Project, Global Forest Coalition and Biofuelwatch at the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany. They claim their call for an immediate end to wood subsidies and incentives for industrial bioenergy is supported by 90 organisations around the world.

The demand for trees for wood-fired bioenergy power stations, as well as the co-firing of wood with coal, is “massively increasing” and will further escalate with an entirely new market for biochar through subsidies and carbon offsets, the report predicts.

It coincides with a decision by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow the planting of genetically-engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees in the US South.

“In spite of global opposition to GE trees, the USDA has approved planting of 260,000 cold-tolerant eucalyptus trees in the southern US,” explains Anne Petermann of Global Justice Ecology Project.

“Eucalyptus is invasive, flammable and depletes water; this will set a dangerous precedent that could lead to large-scale releases of GE versions of native trees like poplars which would contaminate native forests. Trees spread pollen and seeds for hundreds of miles and once contamination occurs it is irreversible.”

Bioenergy is drving demand for renewable energy output

Wood is projected to become the main source of renewable energy in the USA and is already intensifying logging in US forests, they note. GE tree plantations are being promoted as a way to meet the growing demand for wood, but they pose unacceptable risks, including the destruction of native forests to make room for new GE tree plantations for bioenergy purposes, the groups claim.

“As the US and other nations turn to burning plants for energy, changing use of land will have global ramifications,” says Simone Lovera of Global Forest Coalition.

“Agricultural lands are shifting to grow bioenergy crops instead of food; new agricultural lands come at the expense of forests.”

“The process ends with displacement of forest dependent Indigenous Peoples and massive land grabs,” she adds. “Wood-based bioenergy is an absolutely false solution to climate change.”

Wood is a major source of renewable energy in Europe, and its use for bioenergy is expected to increase rapidly in the future. In Britain alone, an industry study predicts wood bioenergy will increase from half a million tonnes to 35 million tonnes, which is 3.5 times the country's total wood production.

“It is a myth that only sawmill and other residues are being burned for bioenergy,” explains Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch.

“Tree stumps, twigs and needles are vital for soil fertility, biodiversity and soil carbon. Already, more and more whole trees are being turned into woodchips and pellets for power stations and companies are increasingly looking beyond the EU for meeting the fast growing new demand.”

Wood bioenergy will impact on indigenous peoples

“Large-scale demand from the North will deprive Indigenous Peoples in the South from their ecologically sustainable and socially indispensable use of forests as they are replaced by destructive tree plantations,” says Fiu Mata’ese Elisara of the Global Forest Coalition.

“Even so-called degraded lands often play a vital role in rural people’s livelihoods, providing medicinal plants, grazing and fuel wood.”

“It can be assumed that any increase in timber production must result in more industrial activities somewhere on the planet and, consequently, an increase in greenhouse gas emissions,” the report concludes.

Even if the use of fossil fuels reduces as renewable energy starts to feed into the global energy supply, increases in pulp and paper consumption will mean a massive increase in GHG emissions; ultimately, any new plantation will be a net source of atmospheric carbon.”

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